Learn more about table olives
Where are table olives produced?
Olives are small, bitter fruits that come from the olive tree (Olea europaea). The olive tree is native to the Mediterranean region, which includes countries such as Greece, Italy, Spain, Turkey, and Tunisia. These regions have a long history of olive cultivation and are known for producing high-quality olives and olive oil.
Throughout history, olives have been cultivated and consumed in the Mediterranean region for thousands of years. The ancient Greeks and Romans highly valued olives and considered them a symbol of peace, wisdom, and fertility. Today, olives are grown in many countries around the world, but the Mediterranean region remains the primary producer.
The cultivation of olives has expanded to other parts of the world with suitable climates, including California in the United States, South Africa, Australia, and parts of South America. Different olive varieties and cultivars can be found, each with its own unique flavour profile and characteristics. Olives are harvested when they are ripe and can be used in various forms, such as table olives, olive oil, or as an ingredient in different dishes and recipes.
What are the main olive varieties?
There are several different types of table olives, each with its own distinct characteristics and flavours. The specific types of table olives can vary based on the region where they are produced and the methods used to process them. Here are some of the popular types:
- Green Olives: These olives are harvested when they are still unripe and have a firm texture and bright green colour. They are typically treated with lye or brine to remove their bitterness and then marinated or packed in various solutions, such as brine, olive oil, or vinegar.
- Black Olives: Black olives are allowed to ripen fully on the tree before being harvested. They have a milder flavor compared to green olives. Black olives can be processed using various methods, such as drying, brining, or oil-curing, which gives them a wrinkled appearance and enhances their flavor.
- Kalamata Olives: Kalamata olives are a popular type of Greek olive. They are deep purple to black in color and have a rich, fruity flavor. Kalamata olives are usually brine-cured and often packed in olive oil or vinegar. They are commonly used in Greek salads, mezze platters, and various Mediterranean dishes.
- Spanish Manzanilla Olives: Manzanilla olives are originally from Spain and have a distinctive round shape and meaty texture. They are typically harvested at a semi-ripe stage and then treated with lye or brine to reduce their bitterness. Manzanilla olives are commonly stuffed with ingredients like pimientos, almonds, or garlic.
- Sicilian Olives: Sicilian olives come from the Italian island of Sicily and are known for their large size and bold flavours. They can be green or black, depending on the ripeness when harvested. Sicilian olives are often dry-cured with salt or oil-cured, resulting in an intense, concentrated flavour.
- Niçoise Olives: Niçoise olives are named after the city of Nice in the south of France, they can be found across the Provence but also in Tunisia where they are called sahli. These small, dark brown to black olives are typically cured in brine and have a rich, nutty flavour. They are commonly used in traditional Niçoise salads, tapenades, and Mediterranean dishes.
- Meski olives: are large green olives with firm skin produced across Tunisia, they are a delicious snack but also are perfectly suited to chicken and fish dishes.
These are just a few examples of the many types of table olives available. Each type has its own unique taste, texture, and culinary uses, making them versatile ingredients in various cuisines worldwide.
How are table olives prepared?
Olives undergo a process of preparation to make them palatable for consumption. The specific method of preparation can vary depending on the type of olives and the desired end product. Here are the general steps involved in preparing olives:
- Harvesting: Olives are typically harvested when they have reached the desired stage of ripeness. Green olives are picked when they are still unripe and firm, while black olives are allowed to fully ripen on the tree.
- Sorting: After harvesting, olives are sorted to remove any damaged or defective fruits. This step ensures that only high-quality olives are used in the subsequent processes.
- Washing: The olives are thoroughly washed to remove any dirt, debris, or residue that may be present on their surface.
- Bitterness removal: Many olives, especially the unripe ones, contain a bitter compound called oleuropein. To reduce the bitterness, olives are traditionally treated using one of the following methods:
- Water-curing: Olives are soaked in water, which is changed regularly over a period of several days or weeks. This process leaches out the bitter compounds, but it can take a significant amount of time.
- Brine-curing: Olives are soaked in a saltwater brine solution for several weeks to months. The brine helps to draw out the bitter compounds and add flavour to the olives.
- Lye-curing: Olives are treated with a lye solution for a short period of time. This method accelerates the removal of bitterness but requires careful rinsing to eliminate any traces of lye.
- Flavouring and marinating: After the bitterness is removed, olives can be flavoured or marinated to enhance their taste. They are often soaked in solutions containing herbs, spices, garlic, citrus zest, or vinegar to add flavour and aroma. Olive oil is also commonly used as a marinade or packing medium
- Packaging: Once the olives have been prepared and flavoured, they are packed in jars or containers along with their liquid (such as brine or olive oil) to preserve their freshness and flavours. The packaging may include additional ingredients like herbs or spices for added flavour.
It's important to note that different types of olives may undergo variations in these preparation steps, depending on the desired outcome and regional traditions. The process can be time-consuming, but it results in the delicious table olives that are enjoyed around the world.